On 9 October 2014, Judge Nobuyuki Seki of the Tokyo District Court granted a provisional injunction against Google Inc. (“Google“) and ordered Google to delete search results of a plaintiff who claimed his privacy rights had been violated because Google’s search engine results of the plaintiff’s name included news articles suggesting the plaintiff had a criminal past. In addition, the plaintiff claimed that he had received death threats because the search results suggested the plaintiff had a criminal past and that made his claim for damages immediate and actual.
While the court’s written opinion in this case has not been made public, it was reported that the plaintiff claimed that his life had been threatened because search results of the plaintiff’s name included information over 10 years old that suggested the plaintiff had a criminal past. Judge Seki’s ruling found that some of the results infringed on the plaintiff’s personal rights, that the plaintiff had suffered actual harm as a result and ordered Google to delete 122 of 237 search results.
This case is similar to the ruling by the European Court of Justice that found people had the right to request that Google in the EU remove links to results generated by a search for their name, making it difficult for third parties to find them.
However, it is still unclear whether Japanese courts will adopt and recognize a “right to be forgotten”. This case was decided in a provisional trial at the district court level and has not been considered by Japanese appellate courts or the Japanese Supreme Court. It should be noted that in a separate case earlier this year, a court in Kyoto dismissed a claim filed against Yahoo Japan because the plaintiff in that case actually did have a criminal record.
The right of privacy from search results is therefore not settled in Japan and whether a Japanese court will find search results infringe on personal rights may depend, in part, on whether the search results are accurate and/or part of the public record. Resolution of this question will likely require a ruling from the Japanese Supreme Court.